In 1969, the Italian conceptual artist Alghiero Boetti (1940-1994) designed a world map, with each country represented by the patterns of its national flag as if that were its essential identity. Boetti then commissioned weavers in Afghanistan, where he traveled frequently, to embroider the map. Updated versions were produced over succeeding years to reflect territorial changes. The last map under Boetti’s supervision was completed in 1993, after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
While the extended project was in progress, Afghanistan itself experienced drastic changes. The Soviet invasion sent many people to Pakistan, including weavers, all of whom are women. The fraught conditions inspired the invention of a genre of ”war carpets” incorporating images of guns, tanks and warplanes. And the so-called ”Boetti style” took on a commercial life of its own in rugs.
The Esso show, put together by Kevin Sudeith, a dealer and collector, is made up of both styles, as well as hybrids of the two. Although war carpets have been international commodities for some time, those here are unusually ambitious in scale and design. In the earliest, dated 1983, checker-patterned helicopters hover over images of animal-filled parks and palatial buildings, themes adapted from traditional models. The same weaver is responsible for woven portraits of contemporary political leaders on view in the gallery’s second room.
I posted about these war rugs quite a while ago. It’s a pity I can’t visit New York, it’s worth it! I’ll see if I can get some images from the exhibition…